Monthly Archives: June 2009

A Future History of Today’s Chicago Future Media Conference (CFMC)!

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June 15.  Greetings! Yesterday I handed out a hardcopy pre-conference version of this post to most everyone present.  Here’s an updated post-conference version, with the CFMC intro language for both panels, followed by our longwinded “hidden in plain view” responses to each.

Panel 1: How do people consume the news, and what do they do with it? What is this panel all about?

The traditional models of news delivery are just that: traditions that have long since had to – or have yet to – fully adapt to their audiences.  This does not mean that ethical journalism or the standards of reporting are not values to be preserved. In fact, they’re more important than ever as audiences have many more ways – and sources from which – to read, analyze, discuss and re-publish the news. Not all news outlets offer the same product, but all provide value even when the interaction with its readers is in quick, short bursts. In this panel, we’ll discuss how the news world has changed, how audiences respond to changing news products and what the challenges are in adapting traditional models to emerging publishing platforms.

Our Response: What people will do with the news  in the future.  They sure as hell won’t “consume the news” in the “traditional news model” sense of paying for the privilege of merely reading or watching it. In the new media landscape, “consumers” – nusers (news users) might be a better term – will pay for news they can use to improve their lives or those of their community and country. “The news” will no longer be relatively static, like a newspaper, but a flow between citizens and governments of current information from thousands of accessible sources. People will use the news to interact with each other in ways that get the results they want.

New media platforms – civic platforms, I hope – will enable the public will to express itself coherently and accurately and, if these platforms are well constructed, the public will do so in ways that meet the interests of individuals, communities and the nation a whole.

How will all this happen? First let’s limit our sense of  “the news” to soft news not about sports or entertainment or food or travel or hobbies – the stuff that people want to know, in Tribune parlance – but to the hard news occurrences, events and (especially) government decisions that affect the lives of citizens in a democracy- the stuff that pe0ple need to know.  This Tribune distinction: can we put it gently to rest and fondly say R.I.P.?  For several decades this dreary notion of hard news surely made money for the Tribune, but in the long run, as we’ve seen recently, it ate away at the paper’s profitability and sapped its journalistic strength. Why? Because it devalues hard news, reducing it to a set of “important” yet, to the reader, unactionable occurrences.

Responding to a Tribune story about the abuse of TIFF funds in Chicago, for instance, you might call your Alderman or write a letter the editor but what good would that do? The Trib’s soporific “need to know” notion of hard news made government and democracy itself boring and irrelevant to peoples’ lives, especially to the younger (18-34) age group coveted by Trib advertisers. It’s not exaggerating by much to say that this numbing notion of the news reduced the paper’s readers to a semi-comatose state, dumbing them down to a point where were not just bored but alienated from politics and government itself.

This dumbing down was not accidental. The Tribune’s “need to know” news philosophy was merely a cutesy local version of a national trend among policy makers and mainstream media. Although no one said so at yesterday’s conference, I suspect many or most of us would agree that traditional models of news delivery reflected an establishment outlook with a vested consentinterest in manufacturing consent (Noam Chomsky zeroing in on Walter Lippman’s revelatory 1922 phrase).

OK, so that’s enough moaning and groaning. Thanks to the Internet, everything is changing. New interactive media platforms – active and proactive followers of thousands of local blogs and national websites – are already upending and in time will probably completely disrupt the old system of passive “news consumption.” These are the green shoots of the the future of American journalism.

Yesterday it was repeatedly asserted, and I suspect generally accepted, that the biggest challenge confronting anyone involved in “adapting traditional [news] models to emerging publishing platforms” – in creating the interactive, proactive political discourse of the future – will be to meet the massive public demand for interactive media experiences that has fueled the growth of all modern communications technologies.  This means inventing new platforms to facilitate ongoing interactive dialogues among those who in the past “made” the news (e.g. the Daley adminstration or the Obama administration) and those who “consumed” it (you and me, plain old ordinary citizens).

It will be fun. Tons of fun. News will regain its lost value, which has to do with the ability of real news to 6a00d8341bfbfe53ef00e54f42306f8833-640wiconnect people in ways that get people to act. People will feel alive and empowered. They will not just be throwing bricks at each other as we do today (and always will do) but will also be listening to each other and working together – competing and cooperating – in dynamic forums – games, contests, inquiries, dialogs, debates – that help articulate national, public and self interests with a degree of precision and productivity that American democracy has never seen.

To date, politicians and mainstream media are either overlooking, ignoring or obstructing this two-way flow – it’s hard to tell which – but their resistance to the new platforms will fade for economic as well as political reasons (see below, the Market of the Whole).

Properly managed and produced, the non-partisan, issue-centered, solution-oriented civic media that facilitates this dynamic information flow will create an entirely new kind of politics: one where all Chicagoans and all Americans  (including politicians) are responsive and accountable to each other in solving the problems, resolving the conflicts and maximizing the opportunities that will shape the future of our city and nation.

Panel 2: How do you make money selling the news and who is willing to pay for it?

What is this panel all about?

The bright line between editorial and advertising has been a hallmark of ethical news outlets for years. But it’s fair to say that this line has both moved and blurred as technology outpaces the newsrooms around the country. Oftentimes, small sites that feature robust news reporting will have one person in the previously separate roles of publisher, editor and reporter. Moreover, the opportunities to create business models around previously-published news are numerous, but what happens when the ethical standards, already in place for these models, are ignored? And how should news organizations position their online properties to best maximize the way audiences consume the news?

Our Response: How You Will Make Money and Who Will Pay for What You Do?

Let me say first off that if I could answer this question fully I’d be a rich man offering jobs to lots of people. But I’m not (yet) and like many conference particpants, I feel I’m on the cusp of tremendous change at a strange time when the gap between what we know is coming and how we can make a living making it happen is still very wide.

I can offer couple general thoughts. Where traditional newsmedia made money by targeting audiences, the dominant newsmedia of the future – the multimedia platforms that generate audiences of 50 or 60 millions – will make money by aggregating smaller audiences into larger ones. These platforms will target the Market of the Whole of, say, all 9.5 million Chicagoland residents or all 300 million Americans.  Feeding into them will be hundreds of local news sources, ideally appropriately compensated for their work. (Market targeting strategies will always be with us, but in the future they will feed into aggregation strategies.)

So how will we, as unemployed or underemployed journalists, make money? Yesterday’s conference was not reassuring on this point. One participant, a recently downsized small town newspaper reporter, said that in order to make money, he’d have to wait on tables and start up his own blog.  Just Like Daniel X. O’Neal.  In my pre-conference flyer, I wrote that journalists in the future will make money by making themselves expert about something and then putting people in touch with each other who have a vested interest in this particular of expertise.  (This idea came up loud and clear yesterday: newsletters, etc.) As a journalist, you will do this on your own, selling stories and networks freelance, or you will find an employer who pays you to do all this and offers you a fabulous platform on which you can do it.  In this scenario, you’ll be intimately involved not just with people (politicians) who are making decisions but with the people (citizens) who traditionally had these decisions imposed on them but who now are supplying you with information that will prove important to the making of sensible decisions.  Here we discuss an interactive City News Bureau that might employ scores of these information facilitators (gotta find a better title than this!).

I’ve developed platforms to monetize the ideas put forth above.  Here’s one, a mainstream media monster that takes you to the very mountaintop of civic media dialogs. And how about this baby, which targets college students and then aggregates them into a nationwide audience? Brilliant! (As the Englishman says inthe Guinness beer commercial.) Getting closer to home, here’s a somewhat vague yet I think interesting idea that occurred to me a couple months ago when I started following the local media upheaval scene. I’ve also got other ideas for Chicago area civic media dialogs that I will share with interested parties (you know what that means.)

I’m creating a team to realize some of these platforms and welcome inquiries from folks who get the civic media idea. I’m looking for the tech savvy altruists and farsighted venture capitalists.

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The Future of (Chicago) Journalism – Part V – Five Key Meetings

hipvresolutionJune 13 11am. Reading up yesterday and pondering the journalistic rush to monetize content, I found some refreshingly frank language from former Washington Post Managing Editor Steve Coll about the crisis of journalism. Setting the stage for Coll at the May 26 U.S. Senate Hearing on the future of journalism was former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon, who spoke of the evisceration of newspaper journalism in the 1990’s by profit-hungry Wall Street and of journalism’s subsequent further erosion by the Internet and the global economic crisis. In his testimony, Coll said that journalism will develop new and adequate business models, but

How long it may take for . . . [viable] business models to emerge is simply unknown. It could be five years; it could be fifteen; it is unlikely to be twenty-five. In the meantime, we face the prospect of a lost generation of American journalism and the collapse of its civic function – and at a time when the country is facing a grave economic crisis; inflective changes in government activity in response to that crisis; and a complex international scene where American power, lives and treasure are at risk. [bold italics mine]

What Should Congress Do?

In this narrative of the crisis of journalism lies a definition of the public interest that should frame and galvanize Congressional attention. At issue here is a sudden disruptive, shock-producing transition from journalism’s old, dying order to a rising, new one. Congress should consider how it might review and reshape the policies it already oversees to reinforce a stronger bridge from the old order to the new one – a bridge constructed to serve the public interest.

Coll made several recommendations to Congress about this bridge, but none of these, he said, would solve journalism’s root problem even if enacted. The root problem, he said, centers on the inability of print journalism to serve the public interest in a digital age. And here a question arises that Coll didn’t address: have cash-strapped journalists, in their rush to monetize content (at the expense of online content aggregators and/or end users), lost sight of journalism’s long-term civic responsibility to the public interest? This seems to me to be the case. Yet logically preceding this question is a simple insight:  the drive to monetize content (increasingly at the expense of the end-user) is, to begin with, a non-starter or a dead-end even as a business proposition.

Why? The reason is hidden in plain view. It’s staring us in the face. The advent of interactive media technologies ensures – guarantees – that Americans will no longer be passive readers or viewers of the news. They will be active and transformative users of it. In the future, the value of content – what users are willing to pay for content – will be a function of the ability of content users to use content proactively in ways that meet their needs, the needs of their communities and the needs of the country as a whole.

In the age of print journalism, journalism’s civic functi0n was relatively simple. It centered on its responsibility to inform citizens (a watchdog function was added as citizens saw the need for investigative journalism). It is common knowledge that in a future driven by real-time interactive technologies, citizens will no longer passively receive information, they will actively use it to interact, constructively or otherwise, with government.  Journalism’s civic function will therefore be more complex, more delicate. Journalism will have the responsibility of facilitating the most beneficial possible outcomes of the new, real-time interactions among citizens (e.g. between Democrats and Republicans) and between citizens and government. Journalism won’t merely inform citizens about the actions of their governments, as in the past, it will undertake to impartially mediate the relationships among citizens and between citizens and government.

THEREFORE journalism’s best and most profitable future is intrinsically civic. It lies in a successful transition from an informing medium to a mediating medium. It lies in journalism’s abilitymediation

  • To empower and enable all Americans – citizens and politicians – to use news information wisely at local, state and national levels so as to improve the lives of citizens, communities and the nation as a whole.
  • To help Americans use the news to solve problems, resolve conflicts and maximize opportunities.
  • To empower citizens and elected leaders to be responsive and accountable to each other (as President Obama and John McCain keep telling us).

These digital-age journalistic axioms “are so self-evident that no explanation can make them plainer.”  These are the fighting words of  Thomas Jefferson, writing three years before his death in 1826 about the right of one generation not to be bound “the laws or contracts” of a preceding generation. As Jefferson said in this letter, “the world belongs to the living, not the dead.”young people

So then: why are media companies even talking about monetizing content? Forget content! It’s time to invent and monetize mediating journalistic platforms that are worthy of American democracy and the amazing interactive communications technologies we’ve just invented.

The great opportunity for journalists today is to design and implement the mediating , solution-oriented platforms that will enable all Americans, citizens and politicians, to put to good use the new and vastly enhanced (because problem-solving) value of news information.

America, as President Obama keeps telling us, must become a nation of problem-solvers in order to survive. It’s that simple. Yet frightened journalists and media execs are so blinded by the headlights of their near-term financial woes – and so tied to outmoded, somewhat elitist journalistic mindsets – that they have yet to see the new and incredibly more beneficial role that solution-oriented journalism will play – has already begun to play – in giving all Americans an informed voice in the decisions that affect their lives.

Evidence for this blindness? Here’s what I learned about five important meetings of journalists – four in Chicago, one in Washington, three down and two to come – that powerfully depict, for my money, the frozen mindset of American journalism. Thanks to the diligent Michael Miner of the Chicago Reader for doing most of detective work for me.

  • The May 6 “Future of Journalism: Communications, technology and the Internet held in Washington D.C. by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and transportation Here’s the full CNBC telecast. The hearing was chaired by Sen John Kerry. with testimony from Google V.P. Marissa Mayer (** needlessly self-serving), Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibarguen (**** some crucial points, especially about universal access) and former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon (**** invaluable history of Wall Street’s 1990’s emasculation of newsmedia), former Washington Post Managing Editor Steve Coll (***** a strong voice, quoted above, for a journalistic paradigm in the public interest), Dallas Morning News Publisher/CEO James Maroney (* old media mindset, help save me!) and Ariana Huffington (** “we aggregators aren’t the problem” a little self-serving, she’s had much better days).
  • The May 28 meeting in Chicago of two dozen newspaper execs sponsored by the Newspaper Association of America. This is fairly alarmingFormer Chicago Tribune Washington Bureau Chief James Warren, now blogging at the Atlantic Monthly, has an insightful piece on this important and somewhat covert meeting. Rick Edmonds at Poynter Online summarizes the 31 page report prepared for this meeting by the American Press Institute (check out the huge dollar sign). Mike Miner writes that the API report “calls on papers to shift ‘from an advertising-centered to an audience-centered enterprise,’ and the sooner the better.” He also wrote about the May 28 meeting at the tail end of his May 28 blog post. Finally, Zach Seward at the Nieman Journalism Lab discusses Steve Brill’s possibly successful pitch at the meeting to bring editors into Journalism Online, his planned platform for reader-monetized newspaper content.
  • The Saturday June 13 2009 Chicago Media Future Conference at Columbia College.  Mike Miner discusses it here. At this site, we’ve already discussed it here. I’ll be attending, perhaps advancing a civic media platform developed back in 1997 on the far West Side Austin neighborhood and called the West Side Drug Area Shutdown Project, or Shutdown Project for short.
  • The Sept 21-23  2009 Chicago Convergence proposes to give area “creative industries” the chance to collaborate about new ventures in technology, interactive media, social change and the arts; digital expressions of ideas with global scale.”

A final thought from Alberto Ibarguen of the Knight Foundation, testifying at the May 6 U. S. Senate hearing:

[The] question is not, of course, how to save the newspaper and broadcast news industries. It is a matter of ensuring that the information needs of communities in a democracy are met to a sufficient degree that the people might, as Jack Knight put it, be informed so they might “determine their own true interests.”

I confess to great qualms about the role of government in this arena.liberty_bell1

At the  moment, I confess to sharing Ibarguen’s doubts, and to having doubts as well about the journalistic vision of most all members of the news media. Thank God for Rick Telander’s column on the Olympics and Chicago politics in today’s Sun-Times. Best piece I’ve seen since Royko.

To close on a note of optimism: I do believe that in the long run no journalistic monetization platform of any kind will endure unless it gives all Americans an informed voice in the decisions that affect their lives at local, state and national levels. That’s the basic promise of our democracy and the basic promise of a free press as well. Think about it: today, for the first time in American history, journalists command the interactive technologies needed to fulfill both promises.

The Future of (Chicago) Journalism – Part IV – A Chicago Idea

June 1 Michael Miner of the Chicago Reader writes that veteran (and just retired) Channel 7 political reporter Andy Shaw is “rarin to remake the Better Government Association as a stand-along bastion of investigative reporting.” Two quotes stand out: one about the big website Shaw wants to create at BGA and a second about how he wants to fund it: andy_shaw

The days when the BGA basically did not exist independent of the media it attached itself to are over, Shaw thinks. So he wants to create his own medium—a high-visibility, interactive, proprietary Web site that will act as a “central clearing house” for every last scrap of significant information that the public needs to know about its governments. “Ground zero,” Shaw calls it.

Every last scrap. Wow. Impressive. If he succeeds, he will have transformed the BGA from a moderately influential government watchdog into a hugely influential Chicago media organization. But how will he fund this transformation?

The “paradigm” is undergoing “radical change,” says Shaw, and if the local media will no longer foot the bill to keep government halfway honest, then other money will have to be found. Some will come from foundations. The Knight Foundation contributes $1.75 million to the Huffington Post Investigative Fund and that tells Shaw he has two calls to make—one to Knight and the other to Arianna Huffington. And there’s also that “huge community of good, dedicated people who have been so frustrated by what they’ve been seeing in government corruption and malfeasance in Illinois.”

Question: can Andy Shaw succeed?

Here, in his blog, veteran Chicago Reader media critic Michael Miner describes a second business model, called Circulate, that would be funded less by foundations and Andy Shaw’s presumed “huge community of good dedicated people” and more by readers/users.